Saturday, May 2, 2015

"A Misguided Attempt to Avoid Politics" - Disappointed over Removal of Ben Carson

My wife and I were disappointed to hear that Ben Carson's invitation to speak at the Pastors' Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention became a controversy.

Trouble arose after a group of young pastors complained "that his appearance could be construed as an endorsement of the Republican Party and that it would be inappropriate for a member of a Seventh-day Adventist Church -- the religious group with which Carson identifies -- to address the Pastors' Conference."

There are many godly believers with whom I disagree over some points of doctrine but from whom I can learn valuable spiritual lessons. If a man belongs to Jesus Christ, has walked with Him, and looks to the Word of God as authoritative, there is something I can learn from him.  A godly man like Carson whom God has used in many ways can certainly offer me spiritual guidance.  Charles Swindoll has a great word on that in his sermon "The Church as God Planned It."  Speaking of Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17, he says,
"That they may be one," perfected into a unit - not polarized into 70 different slices of Protestant Christianity – but that there may be one great Christ over one great body.  That the world may know its truth.  Unfortunately there is a greater loyalty to a certain denomination than there is to the body of Christ to one another. 
Frankly, I don’t know of  a thing that breaks my heart in the church more today than that.  I used to be really narrow, really rigid.  I used to listen closely to labels, I used to want to find that out before I gave myself to an individual.  Before I loved that person.  I wanted to screen them.  I wanted to find out where they really were, and then I could say, “Well, we’re one.”  But my friend, if a person is in Christ, if he is truly born again, than you are one with that person – regardless of the label or no label.  Now believe it or not, that’s biblical truth. 
We shoot ourselves in the foot (very literally according to Paul's illustration of The Body in 1 Corinthians) when we say that someone like Ben Carson cannot offer Southern Baptist pastors spiritual guidance.  That is ridiculous. 
I also believe it is a mistake to distance ourselves from politics for the sake of promoting evangelism. God has called to many tasks, influencing the culture and being salt and light being some of them. For too many decades, too much of the church in America has stayed out of the culture tasks, keeping her head in the sand and  thinking that the only thing that matters is evangelism.   While we met and sang in our churches waiting for heaven, very intentional political activists that hate traditional Christian values were actively taking over our country and influencing her entertainment, schools, and policies.
Charles Colson used to address this problem well, challenging us to look at the wider lens to which God called the church.
In his book with Nancy Pearcy How Now Shall We Live?, they wrote the following:
The only task of the church, many fundamentalists and evangelicals have believed, is to save as many lost souls as possible from a world literally going to hell.   But this implicit denial of a Christian worldview is unbiblical and is the reason we have lost so much of our influence in the world.  Salvation does not consist of simply freedom from sin; salvation means being restored to the task we were given in the beginning – the job of creating culture.

We are meant to proceed to the restoration of all God’s creation, which includes private and public virtue; individual and family life; education and community; work; politics, and law; science and medicine; literature, art, and music.  This redemptive goal permeates everything we do, for there is no invisible dividing line between sacred and secular.  
I would be thrilled if several political candidates who stood for faith and family values received invitations to the Pastors' Conference of the SBC. Invite Mike Huckabee, Carson, and one of our South Carolina state representatives, Jeff Duncan. Let them challenge us from their non-pastoral perspectives about how the church can be salt and light and influence the culture.   Inviting them to speak does not endorse their party; instead, it affirms their values.
If you find a Democratic candidate who is strongly pro-family, pro-traditional marriage, pro-God, and pro-life, then invite them to speak as well.
Todd Starnes of Fox News commented on Carsons' removal: "This is just so, so disappointing. . . .   Very sad." Starnes says, "Well - the reason I vote Republican is because they are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and they did not try to vote God out of their party platform -- unlike the Democrats."
What if English pastors in the early 1800's had an opportunity to listen to William Wilberforce speak at their denominational meeting? Would they not invite him because it would be too political?  Because they might be seen as endorsing his party?  Too political to hear a man greatly used by God for a godly cause? 
Franklin Graham recently shared publicly, Can you imagine what a difference it would make if Christians ran for every office at all levels across our country – city council, school board, Mayor? We need to get involved and take a stand for biblical values and morals before it's too late.
He plans on holding rallies in every state, challenging Christians to run for public office.  Good for Franklin.  He understands what Colson and Pearcy did, that we need not distance ourselves from politics for the sake of evangelism.  Such a dichotomy is false.
I believe that Southern Baptists have not been taught a good theology of culture.  As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I don't know that I have heard one sermon by a SB pastor on the subject of our calling to build, create, and redeem culture.  As a result, we have often and historically perpetuated thoughts such as The church and the pastor should not get political.  We are called mainly to soul winning and that's what the church should be about.  We should stay out of politics and the cultural battles and stick to soul winning.
I think William Rice, the President of the Pastors' Conference, was right-on.  He said we must be engaged in the public arena, and he disagrees with those who think we should avoid political involvements:

Rice went on to say the following on his blog:

To my friends who believe that we should avoid all political involvements, I must respectfully disagree. While I know of no Southern Baptist leader who believes our answer is found in a political party or political solution, there are times when we must be engaged in the public arena. John the Baptist was not jailed for preaching the gospel. He was jailed for speaking truth to power. Southern Baptists cannot and should not back away from appropriate engagement in political life.

If Southern Baptists will not speak, then who will? In these current days where Christian brothers are being butchered overseas and religious liberties are under assault at home, will we stay silent out of some misguided attempt to avoid politics altogether? I pray not. Political leaders who stand for religious liberty, speak out for the oppressed and have the strength of moral convictions should know they have a friend in Southern Baptists.

I am sad that Dr. Carson will not speak at our conference, but I am willing to sacrifice what some may want for the greater unity of our Southern Baptist family.
Yes, how very sad.  Sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees.

I heard Tony Evans preach twenty years ago at a Promise Keepers rally in Atlanta.  He shared that when you find yourself in a war in a foxhole, you don't ask if the guy next to you in the hole is a Presbyterian, Baptist, or Charismatic before you decide to work together for the common goal.
Christians are called to build societies and create - and sometimes redeem and fight for - culture.   And we must stick together to do it well. 

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